NPR logo What Ever Happened To Civil Discourse?


What Ever Happened To Civil Discourse?

Here's a video from a town hall meeting on health care, hosted yesterday by Rep. Barney Frank, a Democrat from Massachusetts:

Today, we talked more about the vitriol that seems to be flowing freely from many of these meetings — against the public option component of proposed health care legislation, against Democrats, against Republicans ... against President Obama.

Shouting matches (stoked by both attendees and Congressional hosts), caricatured illustrations of the president, hateful rhetoric ...

Whatever happened to civil — albeit spirited — discourse?

Rep. Frank did go toe-to-toe in loaded jabs at some who spoke out at his forum (whether his reflexive blows was warranted is up for debate), but he did reference something to someone that raises yet another interesting point in this whole health care debate-turned-debacle fiasco ...

What's The Point?

A quote from Frank (after engaging with a dissatisfied audience member):

You came here believing what you wanted to believe. Nothing I say is going to have any influence, so what's the point?

So, really, what is the point?

This morning, in our daily editorial meeting, I was disturbed when a colleague mentioned that she would never take her children along to attend a town hall meeting. Why? Probably because the room temperature at some of these gatherings is just plain cold and, arguably, is a sorry crash course in civil communication for a youngster to witness. (Although it has to be said, not at all of them — Maryland Rep. Donna Edwards was reportedly engaged in an emotional but relatively calm discussion with attendees at her town hall forum.)

Question: So are these town halls actually accomplishing anything? Perhaps time will tell...

Speaking of which, tell us about your experience if you've attended — or stood on-line waiting to get into — one of these gatherings. And help us by answering the bigger questions: did you go with an open mind, and what did you walk away with?

And, remind me, what ever happened to civil discourse?

... Meet you back here tomorrow ...